Friday, July 21, 2023

Pärnu Concert Hall, Aida 4, Pärnu, 80011 Pärnu maakond, Estonia 

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Closing this year’s Pärnu Festival, Arvo Pärt’s early Collage über B-A-C-H took us back to 1964: post-war Iron Curtain Estonia, summer playground of the communists, Brezhnev ousting Khruschev in the Kremlin. It’s a lean, tersely abstract triptych – Toccata, Sarabande (quoting the Sixth English Suite, oboe, piano and harpsichord added to the string core), fugal Ricercar – homaging Bach and the baroque, journeying towards the promise and consonance of D-major if not its eighteenth-century ‘triumphs and halleluias’. A co-ordinated reading, Paavo Järvi’s eyes and shoulders silently setting pulse and mood beforehand. 

Be it composer or pianist Fazıl Say is an original – reminiscent of Gulda, going his own way, doing his own thing, bridging divides, living out exaggerations, angsts and dreams only he knows. Offering a charged cocktail of pianism, dramatic delivery and passionate re-creative urge, he leaves you in no doubt of his sincerity – that and the fact he has something very personal to communicate. Alone on the stage, stripped of PR hype, he caresses, consummates and conquers in tidal waves of emotional tension and physical release. Every performance he gives seems to be like so many minutes of autobiography and confession. So raw is the privacy exposed, so wracked the body language, that for many these footlight-crossing encounters can be uncomfortably upfront – maybe because they tell us something about our inner selves.

The last time I heard his Beethoven C-minor in person was in Istanbul with the Borusan Philharmonic and Gürer Aykal in 2012. Then in Paris in 2016 I caught Paavo take the reins with Lupu []. Here in Pärnu shared ground was the starting point, classical and disciplined (minim c.63). But by the development/reprise, Say, vocalising, wanting to go faster (69-76), began contributing more urgently to the debate, expressive hands shaping and ‘conducting’ as much as playing, everyone growingly on their guard (contrasting the easier ride of François Leleux twenty-four hours earlier in Strauss’s Oboe Concerto). Come his own cadenza (2001) – not as big or eccentric as Alkan’s but with fiery individuality and a wondrously spaced A-flat ‘music box’ peroration (stretching, I always think, the idea of the Trio from Beethoven’s late B-minor Bagatelle Opus 126/4) – he was in his element, flying free. Neither Largo nor Rondo was without mercurial character, the final bars exultantly gilded. Two encores. The second unexpected – his Gershwin Summertime Variations (2005), ‘theremin’ hands fluttering across the strings, intoning ‘bells’ at the end. The first inevitable – and what we all wanted to hear. Black Earth (1997), after a song, ‘Kara Toprak’, by Âşık Veysel Şatıroğlu (1894-1973), last of an ancient line of Anatolian storytellers and bağlama players. In Black Earth Fazıl conjures up not so much the song of a people as elements of terrain. Scaling giant peaks, suggesting palaces and ruins, his bass sonorities dig deep into soil and history. His extended techniques, magic-carpeting the piano from Europe to Asia, evoke remoteness and legend where spirits older than man watch over the world. His dance allusions are the rituals of war under hot suns, ardent entwinements of unyielding step. Standing ovation.

I’ve commented before on Järvi’s Tchaikovsky ‘Winter Daydreams’ Symphony []. Suffice that this Estonian Festival Orchestra performance, superior to the one the previous evening, can only have pleased him. Dark, smouldering, soloistic on the one hand. Grand, brilliant, virtuosic on the other. Classy. Two encores. Berlioz’s ‘Hungarian March’ (Faust). Lepo Sumera’s Spring Fly Waltz (1986). With clarinettist Matthew Hunt (back in the EFO this year) and concertmaster Florian Donderer book-ending a banquet of remarkably inflected orchestral solos, duets and set pieces, the latter took rubato and exchange, sensuality and glance, the intimacy of barely breathed phrases, to new heights. Starry magnitude. Unforgettable.